The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) shadow deputy minister for Defence and Military Veterans, David Maynier, says that he will not continue to press the government on the subject of a spy satellite which has not been accounted for, despite a “veiled attack” by minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula this morning.
Maynier, in a prepared statement on the DA’s site, says that he will “not stop … asking hard questions about Defence Intelligence’s bungled R1 billion satellite development project, called ‘Project Flute'”.
The issue, which was first raised on Sunday, regards a contract signed in 2006 for the supply of a spy satellite worth R1.2bn. The satellite, built by Russian contractor NPO Mashinostroyenia, has apparently been paid for but not yet received by the government.
“The contract to develop the Kondor-E satellite is believed to have been bungled,” says Maynier, “Because Defence Intelligence would not have control over the satellite and would not be able to control it from South Africa.”
Maynier’s comments were made after the defence ministry published a media release this morning to the effect that minister Mapisa-Nqakula would not be commenting on “matters of security of the state in the public domain”. While not mentioning Project Flute by name, the statement – reproduced in full below – suggests that state security would be undermined for the sake of “political points” and electioneering.
Maynier counters these claims and says that government must be accountable.
“I am exercising my constitutional duty to scrutinise and oversee national government and am serving the interests of South Africa,” he says.
In all the press coverage which the affair has so far generated, however, one minor detail has been missed. According to Russian Space Web, a journal dedicated to coverage of the Russian space program, the entire Kondor project was running about ten years behind schedule. The first Kondor E satellite was due to be launched in 2003, but didn’t actually make it successfully into orbit until June last year. More reports of its launch and the history of Kondor E are over here.
The skies may have eyes after all, then. Just a bit behind schedule.
The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans full statement can be read here, and is reproduced below.
The Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has refused to be drawn into discussing matters of security of the state in the public domain. She has insisted that despite the temptation of an election year, care must be taken by all to ensure that information that secures our territorial integrity should not be compromised simply to gain political points.
At the end of the day, the vulnerability of our state security should be a concern of us all. She once again appealed to all South Africans to respect the need to handle matters of our security with responsibility.
As we celebrate 20 years of democracy, we all need to take into consideration that certain state security matters cannot be discussed or haphazardly thrown into the public domain. This is to ensure that none of our citizen’s security is jeopardised as a result of exposing our state security features and capabilities.
The minister has once again vowed to protect the SANDF as a national asset that serves all South Africans without being subjected to political manipulation of any kind. She expressed her dismay at attempts by those who seem to want to undermine our security and information, and questioned whose interests they serve. She is confident that South Africans will resist attempts to be manipulated to undermine our country, sovereignty and security.
The Minister has once again reiterated that any such protection of the integrity of our security capabilities should be balanced with the need for accountability.
Members of parliament are fully aware of parliamentary protocols and procedures in raising or discussing sensitive matters of such nature.